Barry Levinson

Director / Writer / Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his two-hour-and-fifteen-minute interview, Barry Levinson discusses growing up in Baltimore and attending American University, where he first became interested in pursuing a career in radio or television. He describes moving to Los Angeles, meeting Craig T. Nelson in an acting class, and how he and Nelson became writing partners, working on Lohman and Barkley and The Tim Conway Show. He tells stories of writing for The Carol Burnett Show, of working on Mel Brooks movies, and how Brooks encouraged him to write his film “Diner.” For “Diner,” he describes writing and directing the movie, the process of filming it, the use of improvisation, and how the movie was received. He goes on to describe working on his other successful movies including “Rain Man” and “Good Morning, Vietnam.” He then tells stories of his work in television, including how he came to executive produce Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz and working on HBO movies including You Don’t Know Jack and Phil Spector. He concludes by discussing the then-current state of the film and television industries, giving advice to aspiring writers, sharing what he loves about directing, and career highlights and regrets. Jenni Matz conducted the interview on September 20, 2016 in New York, NY.

“I like to explore ordinary people or the ordinary aspect of people, because I think that’s the most revealing.… It’s always character-driven for me.”

Highlights
Barry Levinson on the influence that seeing "Marty" on Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse as a kid had on him as a director and writer - the importance of ordinary moments that show character
02:54
Barry Levinson on the production schedule on The Carol Burnett Show and the high bar that Carol Burnett set for the entire cast
02:33
Barry Levinson on pitching Oz at HBO to executive Chris Albrecht and what made the show different from previous prison dramas
02:40
Barry Levinson on how he came to be the executive producer of Homicide: Life on the Street
04:34
Barry Levinson on the genre of "Diner": "it is a drama and the reason that it's humorous is because that's the way we react at times"
01:57
Barry Levinson on the role of television in our lives, the danger of contemporary people's comfort in front of the camera, and the way in which television creates disillusionment
04:24
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on a television training program he took part in while a student at American University
14:33
On moving to Los Angeles; on signing up for an acting class in Hollywood; on early writing gigs on Lohman and Barkley, The Tim Conway Show, and The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine
16:36
On what he liked about sketch writing comedy; on writing for The Carol Burnett Show; on working with Mel Brooks
12:55
On moving into films; on writing and directing his movie "Diner"
16:56
On the response to "Diner" when it opened in theaters; on the "Diner" television pilot; on "Diner" being a drama with humorous moments
12:45

Chapter 2

On his writing process; on directing "Rain Man"; on using improvisation in his films
15:06
On directing Robin Williams; on how Homicide: Life on the Street came to be; on the casting of the show
15:15
On network input on Homicide: Life on the Street; on the show's legacy; on Oz
14:47
On films he directed in the 1990s; on the then-current political and media landscape
08:52

Chapter 3

On his work on HBO movies, including You Don't Know Jack and Phil Spector; on the then-current state of the film industry and the opportunities available in television rather than film
17:47
On new opportunities in the television over film; on his experiences and frustrations with the Writers Guild; on Killing Fields and Shades of Blue
14:41
On how he approaches directing for television and directing actors in general; on the best advice he's received about the business
13:11
On advice to aspiring writers and working with his son on HBO's The Wizard of Lies; on then-upcoming projects; on career highlights on regrets; on how he would like to be remembered
11:45
Shows

Carol Burnett Show, The (1967-78)

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Barry Levinson on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
02:02
Barry Levinson on the cast of The Carol Burnett Show memorizing the script rather than reading off of cue cards
01:28
Barry Levinson on the writing process on The Carol Burnett Show
00:46
Barry Levinson on the production schedule on The Carol Burnett Show and the high bar that Carol Burnett set for the entire cast
02:34
Barry Levinson on winning two Emmys for his work on The Carol Burnett Show
00:28

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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Barry Levinson on winning two Emmys for his work on The Carol Burnett Show
00:28

Homicide: Life on the Street

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Barry Levinson on how he came to be the executive producer of Homicide: Life on the Street
04:34
Barry Levinson on directing the pilot of Homicide: Life on the Street
02:12
Barry Levinson on why he wanted to shoot Homicide: Life on the Street in Baltimore
00:46
Barry Levinson on the casting of Homicide: Life on the Street
01:04
Barry Levinson on the naturalistic manner of shooting Homicide: Life on the Street and his input into the editing style of the show
01:52
Barry Levinson on NBC's reaction to Homicide: Life on the Street and the one episode the network objected to
02:37
Barry Levinson on Richard Belzer's Homicide: Life on the Street character, "John Munch," being a crossover character with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
01:19
Barry Levinson on Homicide: Life on the Street's web series: "Second Shift"
00:25
Barry Levinson on working with Tom Fontana on Homicide: Life on the Street
01:05
Barry Levinson on the end of Homicide: Life on the Street and the show's legacy
01:18

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

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Barry Levinson on Richard Belzer's Homicide: Life on the Street character, "John Munch," being a crossover character with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
01:19

Marty Feldman Comedy Machine, The

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Barry Levinson on writing for The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine with Rudy De Luca, and working with the head writer on the show, Larry Gelbart
04:18

Oz

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Barry Levinson on pitching Oz at HBO to executive Chris Albrecht and what made the show different from previous prison dramas
02:40
Barry Levinson on the opening sequence of Oz, which featured show creator Tom Fontana getting a real tattoo of the title on his arm
01:03
Barry Levinson on his involvement on Oz as executive producer
01:48
Barry Levinson on HBO's input on Oz and the show's audience
00:57
Barry Levinson on the end of Oz and the show's legacy
01:28

Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse: "Marty"

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Barry Levinson on the influence that seeing "Marty" on Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse as a kid had on him as a director and writer - the importance of ordinary moments that show character
02:54

Shades of Blue

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Barry Levinson on what interested him in the show, Shades of Blue, which he executive produces
02:20
Barry Levinson on working with Jennifer Lopez on Shades of Blue
00:54

Tim Conway Show, The

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Barry Levinson on writing for The Tim Conway Show with Craig T. Nelson
01:42

You Don't Know Jack

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Barry Levinson on directing the HBO movie, You Don't Know Jack
07:17
Topics

Advice

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Barry Levinson on the best advice he's received about the business
03:34
Barry Levinson on working with his son on HBO's The Wizard of Lies and advice he gave him
03:27

Bloopers

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Barry Levinson on his (somewhat disastrous) first day on a live television set, which took place during a training program he took part in while a student at American University
02:31

Characters & Catchphrases

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Barry Levinson on Richard Belzer's Homicide: Life on the Street character, "John Munch," being a crossover character with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
01:19

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Barry Levinson on radio and television classes he took in college, and a training program in television he took part in
01:53
Barry Levinson on his professor at American University who opened his eyes to opportunities in the entertainment industry
02:04

Emmy Awards

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Barry Levinson on winning two Emmys for his work on The Carol Burnett Show
00:28

First Big Break

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Barry Levinson on writing and performing with Craig T. Nelson on Lohman and Barkley
04:03

Historic Events and Social Change

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Barry Levinson on the political climate in 2016 and how it related to the media climate of the time
01:37
Barry Levinson on directing HBO's You Don't Know Jack and the effect of the movie on the dialogue surrounding assisted suicide
01:30

New Media

View Topic
Barry Levinson on Homicide: Life on the Street's web series: "Second Shift"
00:25
Barry Levinson on new opportunities in television and why talented actors are flocking to TV over movies
01:41

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Barry Levinson on radio and television classes he took in college, and a training program in television he took part in
01:53
Barry Levinson on signing up for an acting class when he first moved to Los Angeles
05:23
Barry Levinson on writing and performing with Craig T. Nelson on Lohman and Barkley
04:03
Barry Levinson on directing "Rain Man" and winning an Academy Award for it
10:42
Barry Levinson on his professor at American University who opened his eyes to opportunities in the entertainment industry
02:04

Pop Culture

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Barry Levinson on Richard Belzer's Homicide: Life on the Street character, "John Munch," being a crossover character with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
01:19

Television Industry

View Topic
Barry Levinson on the "Diner" television pilot, which he wrote and directed
01:01
Barry Levinson on Homicide: Life on the Street's web series: "Second Shift"
00:25
Barry Levinson on the political climate in 2016 and how it related to the media climate of the time
01:37
Barry Levinson on the role of television in our lives, the danger of contemporary people's comfort in front of the camera, and the way in which television creates disillusionment
04:24
Barry Levinson on the experience of working with HBO on TV movies and how they make films that won't get made for theatrical release
05:07
Barry Levinson on the importance of characters in storytelling, and how there is now more room for strong, interesting characters in television than in movies
03:36
Barry Levinson on new opportunities in television and why talented actors are flocking to TV over movies
01:41
Barry Levinson on the best advice he's received about the business
03:34
Barry Levinson on working with his son on HBO's The Wizard of Lies and advice he gave him
03:27
Professions

Directors

View Profession
Barry Levinson on directing his movie "Diner"
04:46
Barry Levinson on the audio in his movie "Diner," and how his desire to have the conversations sound real and messy led to him miking the actors who were off-camera
04:09
Barry Levinson on what he learned about scouting locations from his experience directing his movie "Diner"
02:31
Barry Levinson on how he directs actors and the atmosphere he hopes to create on a movie: "controlled freedom"
00:56
Barry Levinson on moments that were improvised in his movie "Diner"
01:42
Barry Levinson on the critical, studio, and audience response to "Diner," and how the movie ended up never being released nationally
09:34
Barry Levinson on directing "Rain Man"
07:33
Barry Levinson on using improvisation in his films: "you have to know what you want to get to"
00:59
Barry Levinson on directing Robin Williams in "Good Morning, Vietnam"
04:44
Barry Levinson in directing the pilot of Homicide: Life on the Street
02:12
Barry Levinson on films he directed in the 1990s and how they predicted certain cultural and political movements that happened after
02:49
Barry Levinson on how he approaches directing for television
01:36
Barry Levinson on directing actors
02:15
Barry Levinson on what he enjoys about directing and the importance of ordinary moments in movies and television shows that reveal character
03:37

Writers

View Profession
Barry Levinson on what he liked about writing sketch comedy
01:50
Barry Levinson on his writing process
03:22
Genres

Comedy Series

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Barry Levinson on writing for The Tim Conway Show with Craig T. Nelson
01:42
Barry Levinson on writing for The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine
04:18

Cop/Detective/Mystery Series

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Barry Levinson on Shades of Blue
03:15

Drama Series

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Barry Levinson on Homicide: Life on the Street
17:18
Barry Levinson on Oz
08:00

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

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Barry Levinson on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
07:28

News and Documentary

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Barry Levinson on his true-crime series Killing Fields and the resurgence of true-crime in popular culture
02:43

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

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Barry Levinson on directing the HBO movie You Don't Know Jack
07:17
Barry Levinson on executive producing the HBO movie Phil Spector
01:12
Barry Levinson on the experience of working with HBO on TV movies
05:07
People

Chris Albrecht

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Barry Levinson on pitching Oz at HBO to executive Chris Albrecht and what made the show different from previous prison dramas
02:40

Richard Belzer

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Barry Levinson on casting Andre Braugher and Richard Belzer on Homicide: Life on the Street
01:04
Barry Levinson on Richard Belzer's Homicide: Life on the Street character, "John Munch," being a crossover character with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
01:19

Andre Braugher

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Barry Levinson on casting Andre Braugher and Richard Belzer on Homicide: Life on the Street
01:04

Mel Brooks

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Barry Levinson on leaving The Carol Burnett Show to work with Mel Brooks on his films "Silent Movie" and "High Anxiety"
03:35
Barry Levinson on how Mel Brooks encouraged him to write a movie about "the diner guys" Levinson often told him about, and how that led to him writing his movie, "Diner"
02:47

Carol Burnett

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Barry Levinson on the production schedule on The Carol Burnett Show and the high bar that Carol Burnett set for the entire cast
02:34

Ron Clark

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Barry Levinson on how Ron Clark asked he and Rudy De Luca to work on a movie with Mel Brooks, which ended up being "Silent Movie"
01:50

Tim Conway

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Barry Levinson on writing for The Tim Conway Show with Craig T. Nelson and Rudy De Luca
01:42

Tom Cruise

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Barry Levinson on directing Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in "Rain Man"
05:44

Tom Fontana

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Barry Levinson on working with Tom Fontana on Homicide: Life on the Street
01:05
Barry Levinson on the opening sequence of Oz, which featured show creator Tom Fontana getting a real tattoo of the title on his arm
01:02

Larry Gelbart

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Barry Levinson on what he learned from Larry Gelbart when he worked with him on The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine
01:08

Dustin Hoffman

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Barry Levinson on directing Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in "Rain Man"
05:44

Jennifer Lopez

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Barry Levinson on working with Jennifer Lopez on Shades of Blue
00:54

Rudy De Luca

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Barry Levinson on writing for The Tim Conway Show with Craig T. Nelson and Rudy De Luca
01:42
Barry Levinson on writing for The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine with Rudy De Luca, and working with the head writer on the show, Larry Gelbart
02:00
Barry Levinson on how Ron Clark asked he and Rudy De Luca to work on a movie with Mel Brooks, which ended up being "Silent Movie"
01:50

David Mamet

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Barry Levinson on executive producing the HBO movie, Phil Spector, written and directed by David Mamet
01:12
Barry Levinson on his experiences with the Writers Guild and his dissatisfaction with how David Mamet was credited on "Wag the Dog"
02:41

Craig T. Nelson

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Barry Levinson on writing and performing with Craig T. Nelson on Lohman and Barkley
03:54
Barry Levinson on writing for The Tim Conway Show with Craig T. Nelson and Rudy De Luca
01:42

Michael Ovitz

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Barry Levinson on directing "Rain Man," and how he first got involved on the project at the urging of Michael Ovitz, who asked him to give his thoughts to Sydney Pollack, who was the original director of the film
02:20

Al Pacino

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Barry Levinson on directing HBO's You Don't Know Jack and working with Al Pacino
04:04

Sydney Pollack

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Barry Levinson on directing "Rain Man," and how he first got involved on the project at the urging of Michael Ovitz, who asked him to give his thoughts to Sydney Pollack, who was the original director of the film
02:20

Paul Reiser

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Barry Levinson on an improvised scene with Paul Reiser in his movie "Diner"
01:42

Robin Williams

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Barry Levinson on directing Robin Williams in "Good Morning, Vietnam"
04:44

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